Senior government figures and health advisers say the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective, following calls from a backbench colleague to suspend Australia’s rollout.
AstraZeneca will be Australia’s main coronavirus vaccine, with CSL’s Melbourne plant expected to start its rolling supply from Wednesday, gearing up to produce one million doses a week.
Nationals senator Matt Canavan wants Australia to follow the lead of a number of European nations while authorities investigate potential links between the vaccine and blood clots.
“I don’t see how we could continue when basically the whole of Europe is worried about this vaccine,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.
“There’s obviously legitimate concerns here.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament the senator’s view did not represent government policy.
“I think it is incumbent on all of us in this place to support the vaccination program,” he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt told parliament the government “clearly, unequivocally, absolutely supports the AstraZeneca roll out”, pointing to advice from medical officials and the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
The TGA said in a statement on Tuesday it was aware of the European decisions and noted its UK counterpart had said: “It has not been confirmed that the reports of blood clots were caused by the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. People should still go and get their COVID-19 vaccine when asked to do so.”
“The TGA has not received any reports of blood clots following administration of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Australia … (or) have any evidence of a biologically plausible relationship that could suggest a cause and effect relationship between vaccination and blood clots.”
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said Australia saw 17,000 blood clot cases every year and it was expected they could occur around the time of vaccinations.
“This does not mean an event that happens after a vaccine has been given is due to that vaccine,” he said.
“In this situation I can absolutely say I remain confident in the AstraZeneca vaccine. It is safe and at this point there is no evidence that it causes blood clots.”
Nationals leader Michael McCormack and Regional Health Minister Mark Coulton rebuked their party colleague for demanding a suspension.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told colleagues Senator Canavan had inflicted damage on public confidence in the vaccine rollout, but Labor stood by the advice of medical officials.
Meanwhile, Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said doctors were concerned the national vaccine booking system was still being built.
“More than six million Australians are due to be able to book their vaccines from next week without a national booking system … this is utterly remarkable and irresponsible,” he told reporters.
Professor Kelly said around 1000 general practices would have access to vaccines from next week.
“Those deliveries are happening now,” he said.
More than 18,000 vaccinations were conducted on Monday, bringing the national total to 200,000.
It is expected to gear up to 100,000 vaccinations a week soon.